County Louth

Castle Roche, County Louth

Louth may be Ireland’s “wee” county. But it certainly packs a big punch in Ireland’s Ancient East

Small, but perfectly formed. That's Louth in a nutshell. Despite its size, this corner of the island is home to some of the Boyne Valley's greatest historical treasures, intriguing legends and to a surprising stretch of coastline, including the cool towns of Dundalk and Drogheda.

The delights of Drogheda

At the heart of County Louth is Drogheda. It was one of the largest walled towns in medieval Ireland and today it infuses its historical core with an easy-going cosmopolitanism. One moment you're devouring seafood in a riverside hotel, the next you're exploring historical hotspots such as the 19th century Martello Tower at the Millmount Museum, or standing with your eyes wide open in St Peter's Church.

Why? St Peter's Church is famous for its shrine to St Oliver Plunkett (1625-81), the last Catholic martyr to die in England, and the centrepiece of its shrine to the saint is his grisly preserved head.

The history continues nearby at Old Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice. At the latter, look out for the 10th century Muiredach's Cross – standing 5.5m tall, its panels display biblical scenes like an ancient iPad. Amazingly, it was carved from a single block of sandstone.

Water, water everywhere

Louth boasts an impressive coastline – stretching over 88km (55 miles) from Carlingford Lough to the beaches of Baltray. Have you ever walked on water? That’s what a loop of the Clogherhead Peninsula feels like, winding around rocks from which the standing stones at Newgrange are said to have been cut, before emerging at Port Oriel.

“Bay of the hag” might not be the most enticing name for Carlingford Lough, but we’ve the Vikings to thank for that. Luckily the area, which ripples with Irish mythology, is a lot more picturesque than its name might suggest. Carlingford itself is as close as a village gets to an al fresco museum. Walking its medieval streets, you’ll pass a sweet shop here, a tholsel (former public building) there, a state-of-the-art adventure centre here, a medieval mint there… and on it goes. Carlingford also hosts a great oyster festival in August, and a bubbling bistro scene that would do credit to a small city.

Land of legends

The Cooley Peninsula, where you'll find Carlingford, doesn't just look amazing, it's a landscape steeped in Irish mythology. Slieve Foy is said to be the resting place of the legendary hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill. It was central to the Táin Bó Cuailgne legend from 12th century Irish literature (often translated as The Cattle Raid of Cooley), which tells the epic saga of Queen Medbh of Connacht and the warrior Cú Chulainn. And, as if that's not enough, it's also listed under a European Habitats Directive as a specially protected area for flora, fauna and... leprechauns.

Yep, that's right. The woods nearby are rumoured to be filled with leprechauns – just ask local Leprechaun Whisperer Kevin Woods! We're not quite sure how the EU got involved, but let's roll with it. Slieve Foy is host to an annual leprechaun hunt, and you can even see a leprechaun's suit and bones at local pub, PJ O'Hare's.

Welcome to the little county that could!

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